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Hackathon showcases smart content search engine

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Syl Kacapyr
 team member outlines an algorithm on white board
A team member outlines an algorithm on a white board.

At the Big Red//Hacks event Sept. 26-28 – billed as the first student-run, large-scale hackathon at Cornell University – participants will have access to a semantic intelligence application program interfaceAPI, the core technology for a new startup, Speare.

Speare founder and CEO Rahul Shah ’16 said his passion for understanding information, coupled with meeting students who shared an interest in entrepreneurship, resulted in the creation of Speare – a startup business that harnesses semantic intelligence to understand the meaning of textual information.

“Back when I was in high school I was interested in how computers understand the meaning of content and information,” Shah said. “I started by looking at and working with music, by trying to extract characteristics of songs – e.g., tempo, key, etc. – and to use that data to recommend new music to users.”

“[At Cornell] I started working with a team of people to develop technology that can understand the meaning behind textual data. I had developed some innovative core technology; I was looking for a business problem to solve.”

While participating in eLab, the Speare team decided to focus on the publishing industry because it is underserved by effective analytics, and the potential for using Speare technology to connect more effectively with audiences is great. “Media helps ‘hold the world together’ by providing audiences with notices and commentary about political change, technology advancements, social movements, etc.,” Shah said.

According to Shah, media has changed significantly in one generation. Audience segmentation has increased and the reach of individual media channels is continually in flux. All of this places a significant strain on the ability of any single publisher to generate new audiences and increase revenue. “Engaging an audience is the key to success in the media space,” Shah said.

By providing newsrooms with a smarter content discovery engine and an analytics portal that allows editors and journalists to make decisions based on insights gleaned from data, Speare’s mission is to take news and media websites to a new level of personalization for their readers. “Current solutions are unable to fully engage readers because they don’t understand why the recommendations were chosen. Speare is the first personalization engine to fix this,” Shah said.

Following Big Red//Hacks, development teams will be granted six months free use of Speare technologies. In return, the Speare engine will become “smarter,” enabling publishers to make better data-driven decisions about the content they provide.

Debra Eichten manages special projects and writes for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

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